What in the world happened here after the bye week?
Rob Hwang: Someones been cutting onions around me all week.
Nick Kranz: I’m going to go ahead and hijack this question as a chance to spread my bye-weeks-don’t-much-matter gospel. To be fair, the data is small-sample and inconclusive. There’s some evidence that it helps a tad, and some evidence that it doesn’t much matter. There’s plenty of noise in the data.
Bye weeks are helpful in terms of granting hurt players an extra week to heal, and so perhaps Cal benefited from getting Valentino Daltoso back healthy into the offensive line rotation. But that was the only personnel change for the Bears. But I think most teams spend a bye week doing roughly the same thing that they do every week - practicing the same plays that they spend every other week practicing. True, a coach might pick particular plays that they want to feature against the next opponent, but at the end of the day you’re practicing your base sets, and if you aren’t executing those base sets very well, not having a game on Saturday isn’t changing that very much.
I suppose the theory int his specific case goes that Devon Modster needed two weeks to catch up on reps and build chemistry with his teammates. And there’s probably some truth to that, but to me that idea mostly acts as a reminder of how far behind the eight ball Cal is. Modster’s three total weeks taking starter reps for Cal . . . well, that’s going to pale in comparison to the three+ years of reps that Jake Luton has under his belt. One extra week just doesn’t matter very much in the grand scheme of things.
Piotr T Le: It looked like the offense tried to get the run game going but it failed. Well it kept trying to run, mostly due to the fact that the pass-protection wasn’t able to keep up racking up many sacks on the Cal QBs (some could be credited to the QBs trying to run and getting hit 2 yards short of the LOS). However, the definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing expecting different results... the OC play calling was insane with a lack of play-action, screens or any misdirection to keep the Oregon State defense guessing. We made the Beaver defense look like ours. Meanwhile the defense wasn’t able to find a solution to a offense willing to take the 4-6 yard runs drive by drive.
boomtho: It’s disappointing to lose a winnable game, but I don’t think that means there was a lost opportunity during the bye week. Like Nick mentioned, the hope was that the team would have some time to rest and heal up before OSU, which looks like it happened (a bit). Really, OSU just played a more consistent game than Cal, and was able to move the ball enough on offense with both runs and passes. On offense, Cal’s banged up OL wasn’t able to do enough against a pretty poor/mediocre OSU defense; our run game was poor (though not for lack of trying) and we got into a lot of 2nd/3rd and long because of negative plays. Our best offense for much of the game was throwing it up down field to draw PI’s!
Henry Keenan: It seems like the injuries (in addition to the two now at quarterback) are really catching up with the team, and the lack of depth is showing. This is mainly a structural problem founded upon the recruitment hiccup between the Dykes and beginning of the Wilcox eras. The Cal coaching staff is certainly one of, if not the best in the conference, and this should become less of an issue over the next few years.
thedozen: It felt like OSU was steadily improving over the last several weeks while Cal suffered some key injuries. If you played this game again the Bears might well win, but in this universe the Beavers managed a late rally.
christopher_h: A complete and total lack of depth on the offensive line, and some play-calling that was questionable at best.
With Modster potentially unavailable this week, if it is a concussion like they said on broadcast, what did you see from Brasch that you liked? What didn’t you like?
Leland Wong: Spencer Brasch was able to come out and immediately complete a pretty throw—very impressive for a true freshman thrust into a playing situation. Unfortunately, we also saw him make common freshman mistakes like holding onto the ball too long—which was especially egregious when the final seconds are counting down and it’s worth the risk of a pick to throw a deep pass instead of burning clock in the pocket and ultimately eating a sack. Without seeing the coverage downfield, there’s room to wonder if he’s still acclimating to the college game and hesitating as a result. This isn’t a knock on Brasch at all—it’s totally understandable for this to happen to a kid in this situation.
And this is so vindictive and petty, but I always enjoy seeing back-up quarterbacks come in and struggle while they’re still young and learning in the hopes that it will quell the armchair coaches who call for back-ups and are confident that they somehow have a better understanding of our players than our coaches despite having a mere fraction of the information. And every time—without fail—we see the fans are unable to learn this lesson.
Piotr T Le: He has an arm and is willing to uncork a deep shot as shown by his very first pass that gave me a passing glimmer of hope. However, like a true freshman QB he was trying to keep the play alive and held the ball too long leading to sacks on sacks on sacks.
boomtho: The data is SO limited and I completely trust the coaches have arrived at the right QB pecking order this year, so I’m not at all expecting Brasch to step in and look like a game changer. That being said, Brash had one really nice throw I thought: rolling to his left, he bought time and floated a ball downfield that helped us draw a PI. On that one play, Brasch showed good instincts to extend the play and nice touch on a downfield pass.
Henry Keenan: Despite the pick, Brasch looked like he has a great arm. He almost reminded me of a 2013 Jared Goff in terms of build and arm strength. It will be interesting to see how he plays with a full week of first team reps. Obviously, a lack of experience under center at the college level is never a good thing, but he now has already seen one of the most high-pressure situations you can get in a college football game; down four points with under four minutes left to play. Modster also has not impressed, so we might as well get a young quarterback some experience.
thedozen: There’s not much to break down yet. Brasch showed nice accuracy and a bit of scrambling ability in high school. If one of my favorite professional teams is having a poor season, I can usually look forward to seeing younger players or prospects perform at the highest level. In this case, Cal is still in the mix for a bowl game. However, if Modster is unavailable then I am interested in how Brasch adapts to being thrown into a starting role.
christopher_h: Brasch took like 9 snaps or something, so it’s far too early to say. Starting him against Utah would be to pretty much throw him to the wolves again, as he did by coming into a must-throw situation with the game on the line against OSU. Unless he torches Utah or something ridiculous and we can dub him the second coming of Goff or Rodgers, I doubt we’ll have too much to judge him on even after the game.
Rob Hwang: See tweet thread analyzing his HUDL and 7s highlight videos.
The defense once again did not give up more than 24 points. Are you worried about the fatigue on that end due to the offense inability to help them win? What were some issues with the defense that you spotted?
Nick Kranz: Cal defended 75 plays, which is a pretty average amount, and Oski knows this defense is plenty used to not getting a ton of offensive support, so I’m not worried about that. Cal may have suffered a bit from missing Traveon Beck, as most of OSU’s success passing came in the middle of the field where Beck is often operating. But mostly this was the same defense we’ve seen for the past 1.5 years - a very good but not quite elite defense that will allow a handful of sustained drives per game. When things go right those sustained drives end in FG attempts or turnovers, and when things go wrong they end in TDs, and that distinction shouldn’t matter if they were supported by a remotely successful offense.
Piotr T Le: I am worried about the mental space the defense must be in. This is year 2 of playing good enough football to win any game it has been failed by the offense to keep the drives alive to drain the clock. The Evan Weaver interview was gut wrenching that reminded me of the 1st year Jared Goff post game interview where he responded, with dejection, to the question “What is the mood in the locker-room?” “Exactly what you think is.”
boomtho: I just want to give DeRuyter, GA, and the #takers a hug. I can’t imagine how frustrated they are to play well most weeks and still come up short. I know OSU came in with an improved offense, but I was surprised by how effectively they were able to run the ball for consistent yards against us. Cal got 5 sacks and made Luton uncomfortable, but he was still able to find his receivers/TE’s for some big completions.
Henry Keenan: The defense looks great and it’s a shame there is not an offense to compliment it. It feels a lot like last year, where Cal seems more likely to score with the defense on the field. A lot of those guys will be playing on Sundays in 2020.
thedozen: The Cal defensive players seem to be a resilient bunch. While everyone loves to win, I don’t think they require validation to keep doing the right things. Third downs seem particularly critical going into a road game against Utah.
christopher_h: I was a bit disappointed that OSU was able to score 3 touchdowns (the only other team to do so this season was Arizona State), and they scored every time they were in the red zone. It’s really not fair to judge a defense for this, but the Cal defense is so good that we’ve come to expect big stops from the defense. Usually when a team does drive down the field against Cal, they usually stiffen up in the red zone, so it was a bit jarring to see OSU score anyway. OSU didn’t even do anything tricky; those were their bread and butter plays. Cal had to know that was coming.
Where does the offense go from here? Let’s role-play a bit. Into the shoes of Wilcox or Baldwin. What would you do going into this big away game at Utah? What can you even do?
Leland Wong: With our O-line devastated by injuries (as if it were struck by an Infinity Gauntlet–empowered snap), it wasn’t a surprise to see even Oregon State’s D-line blow them up on every play—and now we face a defensive line that’s considered among the best in the nation and features stellar talent like Bradlee Anae. When a defense is able to have their way with an offense’s blockers and end up in the backfield, we have to make that the wrong spot for them to be in—when someone has all the answers, you have to change the questions. I would change the gameplan to include more screens, roll-outs, outside runs, quick passes, and read option. We saw the Beavers use this kind of misdirection from reverses to play-action bootlegs and I think this kind of trickeration is what you need when you’re outmatched in talent. And if Devon Modster is indeed injured and Spencer Brasch earns the start, then we have to emphasize the plays that he’s comfortable with in order to build his confidence.
Nick Kranz: I hinted at this in my Monday column, but: You combine the types of plays that have been successful against Oregon and Oregon State, as well as the kind of approach that was successful for USC against the Utes: The screw it, go deep offense. Cal can’t run the ball, and Utah will smother anything short. Screw it, throw it deep. Maybe you draw some PIs that get you into field goal range. Maybe you hit on a few deep throws and create scoring opportunities. Maybe you arm punt, but is that much different than normal punting? It’s exactly the type of high variance strategy a broken offense may as well try.
Piotr T Le: I am tapping into my Rex Grossman school if QB-ing and going deep. Look, the OL can’t get push for a run due to injuries, the QBs can’t hit the side of the barn from inside of it on intermediate routes. Get the QBs running on bootlegs, get crossers to the boot side with deep shots available to cut the field read in half and get the opposing DLs/LBs running all game long, and chuck it. Analytics has shown that even with a poor running game the play-action pass can generate efficient yards, so do that too if needed. Just do something, anything besides the insanity of having a 2nd string OL run outside zones for 1-2 yard gains.
boomtho: If Brasch is indeed starting, I think I would focus heavily on simplifying the playbook and calling quicker plays. That should hopefully help Brasch in his first start in a really tough environment. I would also expect them to dial up 1-2 trick plays. It looks like we’ll be +18-20 so it’ll be a really huge hill to climb.
Henry Keenan: Let’s have Brasch try to manage this game. He got thrown into the fire on Saturday, let’s see how he plays in a planned, methodical environment where the team doesn’t need a Hail Mary to win. He seems like he has some great arm-strength, we can focus on the run and screen game, but also take a few shots down the field once the defense gets drawn in. Finally, Brasch needs to be protected as we are now very thin at quarterback.
thedozen: I suppose the best hope is that the Bears play a terrific defensive game and the offense can keep things manageable. Otherwise, breaking out a trick play or two might make things interesting.
christopher_h: You know, there’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t punt it on first down. Let’s put this game in the defense’s hands, and prevent any further injuries to the Cal offense. I’m only somewhat kidding, but I am genuinely concerned that Cal cant afford to sustain any more injuries.
Rob Hwang: You have to establish some form of an identity. It could be too late, but it’s tough for any of the offensive players to gain any confidence not know what’s effective and what always puts them in a position to win. Early on it looked like a run heavy team during the first 3 games. Then it looked to be passing from Ole Miss onward. Then we just lost all identity. With nothing working you need to simplify everything and not complicate it for all players.